I was shocked when I counted 45 light bulbs in and around our house and garage. Of those, about 20, do the heavy lifting of providing lighting on a constant basis. The rest, such as basement lights, are turned on only occasionally.
Assuming those consistently-used lights are left on an average of five hours a day, we'd spend $27 a month to power those bulbs. With fluorescents, we'd shell out only about $6! See my appliance usage table here.
But before you run out to the home center to buy a pack of fluorescents, there are lots of things you should know to make a smarter purchasing decision.
I'm going to devote several postings to the subject so as to keep your reading experience short. I've listed some highlights below.
New, but somewhat unknown--Fluorescent lights have been around for decades, but not until about 20, or so, years ago did people figure out how to economically shrink the size of the ballast, the electrical innards that make fluorescents light up. Still, more than 10 incandescent bulbs are sold for each fluorescent. Of course, the fluorescents cost more, anywhere from $2 to $7 for a bulb, but remember, they should last longer.
Less electricity--Screw-in fluorescent bulbs use about a quarter of the electricity of their incandescent counterparts. A bulb that puts out about the same amount of light as a 60-watt fixture, uses about 13 watts, hence the cost savings.
Longer life--Fluorescents last anywhere from around 6,000 to 10,000 hours, compared with about 1,000 hours for an incandescent bulb. That means you'll be replacing bulbs less often, a plus if you have any in hard-to-reach fixtures. We have two lights that have been in daily use for 20 years! We've also had three or four bulbs that have burned out way before their rated life. Of course,
Less pollution, sort of--Because fluorescents use so much less electricity, that can translate into less carbon being puffed into the atmosphere by power plants. One article in the New York Times says each bulb can save about 100 pounds of carbon emissions a year. The downside is that fluorescents use a trace amount of mercury. Nobody's sure what the impact will be on landfills will be of millions of spent bulbs were tossed out each year. Some local governments are exploring recycling options.
Some can be dimmed--The less-expensive fluorescents don't work with dimmer switches, but special models do. More in future posts.
Improved Color--Manufacturers have figured out ways to make fluorescents more closely resemble the light from incandescent bulbs. Many early bulbs had a decidedly greenish cast, and that gave the lights a bad reputation. Manufacturers now sell bulbs with different color ratings, and I'll write more about that later.
According to the New York Times article, Wal-Mart, the giant retailer, is aiming to get compact fluorescents into 100 million homes. If your home is one of those without fluorescent bulbs, why not give it a try?